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  • By John R. Quain

Waymo Out West: Horse Hockey

Waymo Pacifica; courtesy of Waymo

Classification is what folks in the autonomous car business call the process of correctly identifying objects, people, cars, and trucks on the road. Mobileye famously spent a lot of time trying to program its software to recognize kangaroos. Others have spent years getting cars to avoid pedestrians. Recently, Waymo has been jousting with horses.

In Tempe, Arizona, autonomous vehicles may not have to deal with snow, but they do have to deal with horses. And while it is true that for years automakers such as Volvo have had large animal detection software that brakes to prevent collisions, it's one thing to avoid hitting a stallion, it's another to drive alongside one and predict how it will behave. So Waymo recently did some preliminary tests passing a retired police horse called Blitz.

In spite of its name, Blitz was apparently not spooked by the Waymo minivan, according to local media sources. And the autonomous wing of Alphabet (nee Google) tried a few maneuvers to simulate the more spontaneous encounters with equine traffic on city streets that Waymo's vehicles usually face. Granted, it's going to take more than a few passes for cars to predict how horses will behave on the road and translate that into driving behavior, but it's an interesting example of what self-driving cars need to be able to contend with.

Now we're wondering when they'll start testing with gators in Florida.

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